Saturday, May 31, 2014

Assembly Row Assembled

If you are a frequent commuter into and out of the city, then you have likely noticed the painted brick mural of Assembly Square in Somerville. Long in development, Assembly Row – the retail/living area modeled on a downtown – is now officially open for business.

Though this weekend plays host to the Grand Opening duties, the square was fully operational last weekend - and not only was Assembly Row open, there was plenty of public for it to be open to. I have never seen a J.P. Licks so packed, and, even more impressively, the line outside of the LEGO creation station (Store? Attraction? It is so many things all in one) would have made Legoland itself blush. But why not? What are LEGOs if not our ability to personally create our own world brick by brick? Certainly that makes Assembly Row a fitting location for such a place.

Fret not, however, there is more to the area than retail opportunity. There are numerous delicious-looking restaurants. Better yet, there’s a bandstand, movie theater, and river view park, all of which are certain to continue the push for the arts that the rest of Somerville has been making lately. It would be great to see a homespun gallery or two pop up in some of those retail fronts that are still being finished.

Architecturally, Assembly Row is more dynamic than expected, too. From materials to patterns, the faces of each building stand out from one another. Planned downtowns like this often run the danger of blending into a forgettable vanilla (nothing planned all at once could meet the eclectic nature of, say, Government Center here in Boston or the French Quarter in New Orleans), but Assembly Row avoids just such a pitfall. It has personality. Particularly the Legal Sea Foods.

All in all, Assembly Row is proving to live up to its promise. It is a fun, inviting place to eat and play, and – I would assume – to live, especially once that T-stop gets finished up.

Til next time!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flapjacks and Formula 1

One of the ways that I gauge my evolution from caveman to man is by looking at the time at which I wake up in the morning. I have steadily progressed from a sunny oh-let’s-say-ahem-eleven-ahem to a before-dawn-to-dawn quarter of six. Weekends are a different story, though. Weekends are for sleeping in.

Except this weekend.

This Sunday I dragged myself out of bed at 7:00 am. Why would I do something so barbaric, you ask? Because it was the Monaco Grand Prix! After missing it for the past few years, I was determined to catch the race.

A race-watch, though, must be treated as a full-on sporting event. This is the Monaco Gran Prix! It’s the homeopener of the Formula 1 world.  It deserved to be treated the way we do our favorite events – with snacks!

Snacks that early are tough to pull off, so instead I opted for a hearty breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, and yogurt – oh my! Lucky for me, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

It felt fitting that the very same event that Europe’s most-bourgeois of the bourgeoisie celebrate with the finest vintages of wine and luxury yachts (do you think they get yacht envy?) was accessible to me in Boston over a course of scrambled eggs and Aunt-Jemima-laden pancakes. Perhaps the zillionaires were enjoying mimosas and something edibly expensive for breakfast. I don’t know why, but I picture people that rich looking like 18th Century aristocrats (wigs and all) – just sunbathing on modern yachts. It makes no sense, but that’s my imagination for you.

If you would like to follow along with the next Formula 1 race, you can easily do so. The next race is even within a timezone native to the Western Hemisphere! Canada will be hosting its Grand Prix on June 8. You can check the schedule here.

Til next time!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Boston's World War II Memorial

I grew up in a storytelling family. 

I think if you did too, you’ll understand just how near and dear to your heart those stories can become. Though my heritage is mostly French Canadian, the eighth of me that hails from Ireland understands that some of those tales had – and still have – more than a touch of the Irish in them. 

Those stories evolved over time. They became a little bit more exaggerated and, in some cases, they became a bit more irreverent, but they have always been played for the memory and a laugh.

Sometimes there is far more truth in the emotional reaction you’ll have to an exaggerated story than can be found in a more precise and detailed account. Think of it this way: a joke that gets overly technical or too detailed loses its humor. It’s the same with family history – fudging the details a bit allows your family to preserve the experience.

But what do you do when you have nothing to go on?

This is the dilemma that I face on both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

Both of my grandfathers served in World War II, and my family has a few items to the effect: a folded American flag, two discharge forms, and a picture or two.

What we lack is everything else. We have no letters, no exchanges, no correspondence. In other words, we have no story. And though I would like to know, I know that I don’t have to.

I don’t think this is uncommon. For many families out there, World War II was an era of great impact – one that shaped families dramatically and immediately. And there are parts of it that many families decided they didn’t want to define their narrative. Perhaps the best definitions of my grandfathers are the ones that they chose for themselves: their families, their homes, their work, and every story they chose to tell and re-tell.

With that in mind, I certainly have my own imagination and a few clues to go on, but my grandfathers’ legacies are those of everyone remembered today – not only what they did in their service, but what came of their service: the lives we lead now and the stories we tell to define them.

Happy Memorial Day, and thank you to all service members past and present.

Til next time!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sweet Cheap Eats -- Masa, South End

If it seems an age-old battle, I think it’s because it is: for me, cost is everything, but for my fiancée, it all comes down to experience.

Case in point: the many glamorous bars and restaurants in Back Bay and Downtown. Getting a delicious sangria with a small portion of food in a hip atmosphere is worth $80 to my fiancée. I, on the other hand, refuse to pay $8 per taco (very seldom do I draw the line on an issue, but this is one that I won’t back down from). That one taco is more expensive than a burrito at El Pelon, and trust me, it’s the most amazing burrito there is.

But don’t I want to have fun?

Just for the record: In the ten years we’ve been together, I have always loved fun.

Fun to me, however, has an opportunity cost (quite possibly the only thing that I remember from economics). That is, should it create sufficient anxiety over the other things prohibited by its expense, I would rather move on to the next best alternative. For example, $45 is three-quarters of the way to two seats at a Red Sox game. It’s dinner and a movie – almost – in the Fenway neighborhood. Make it $80, and it’s groceries.

I’m getting carried away. The point is we were ecstatic to find Masa [439 Tremont St.] in the South End, because on Saturdays and Sundays, they have an $8 two-course brunch.

First – and they don’t tell you this, but it really does happen – they bring you a basket of two kinds of corn bread and three spreads. You can put maple butter on blue-corn bread. Or jam on yellow-corn bread. Etc. etc. It was a delicious surprise, especially because I love corn bread, and because it is so good for you. (Maybe? I hope.) Corn may be a grain, I know, but it will always be my vegetable of choice.

For the “first” course (second, with bread), there’s granola with yogurt or milk, fresh fruit, or a caramelized plantain empanada. Riding my eight dollars all the way to the bank, I of course went with the empanada. I was not let down.

My fiancée ordered the fruit, which was indeed fresh and looked yummy, but my mouth was full of empanada, so I didn’t try it.

Last, our second courses arrived. Southwestern eggs benedict for myself, served over Southern style biscuits, and huevos rancheros for my fiancée. You literally cannot go wrong with either choice. The portions were full-size, too – I don’t think we ate for another 10 hours after we left.

The best part? It was a great experience in a neighborhood in which we don’t spend much time. And our bill came in under $20. The meal was so good, and the experience was so fun, though, that I would have paid more.

Oh man… she’s right.

Why does she always do that?

Til next time!

Monday, May 12, 2014

If It's Free It's for Me

Whenever we go out shopping, my fiancée tends to laugh at me. I have this habit of finding one of two things in any store. Books and free stuff. Even in a home decorating store like West Elm, I’ll pick up the books being used as display items and flip through them. Yes, I’ll even pick up books whose sole reason for existence is to take up space (artfully arranged space, but still). What can I say? I appreciate curtains, but on the whole, I like reading more. I also like discounts.

No so long ago, while walking through Harvard Square, I spotted an odd stack of cardboard boxes labelled “free.” Interested yet leery, I approached slowly. Definitely intrigued, predictably self-conscious, and oddly suspicious of malfeasance, I gradually arrived at the boxes of freebies.

And I was sincerely excited that I did so.

Wrapped up in plastic cellophane, there were stacked before me hundreds of promotional releases of The Hope We Seek by Rich Shapero and an accompanying CD, Songs from the Big Wheel by Rich Shapero with Marissa Nadler. All of a sudden, Robert DeNiro’s voice from Silver Linings Playbook was in my head telling me that it’s a sin to not take these opportunities when life reaches out with them. Er... wrong context.

And then, I had a real epiphany. Maybe it's not the wrong context. I mean, this is a promotional release, right? What if I blogged about it? What if I reviewed it? What if my review launched me into the stratosphere of online Beantown bloggers? What if I started receiving more promotional materials? What if I got an advance copy of Stephen King’s next book? I write about Maine a lot! It could happen!


What if I start getting invited to Red Sox games? What if they want me to do more Mustachioed Monuments of Fenway Park? What if I throw out the first pitch? What if I mess it up?


What if the Improper Bostonian calls? What if the Boston Globe calls? What if they get in a bidding war on a weekly piece called “Don’t Look Down, Beantown”? What if I write for both of them?


What if I just took this awesome freebie at face value?


At this point, I had been standing there long enough for the people at Au Bon Pain to start noticing, and for me to start stress sweating.

But crashing back down to reality wasn’t so bad, really, because I was plus my free book. I’ll review it for you when I can, but - fair warning - I already have maybe ten unread books in my possession, so it could be awhile.

Til next time!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Spidey Sense

Big news. Big, BIG news.

Peter Parker is back as Spider-Man! (Nerd Alert: For the past year-ish, Spider-Man's body has been inhabited by the mind of genius arch-villain Doctor Octopus.) And all of us loving Beantown residents are cordially invited to celebrate.

Newbury Comics is celebrating the release of the brand-new, number one issue with a variant cover that features Faneuil Hall. You can grab it for yourself at any location for $5.99. And you know what? Today may be the right day - it's Free Comic Book Day, a not-so-national holiday that takes place on the first Saturday of May. You won't be able to pick up Amazing Spider-Man #1 for free, but discounts on full-priced items usually accompany the swag.

from the top o' the clock

Now, I know that I'm really giving Newbury Comics a good plug here. They are offering a Boston cover for the new Spider-Man, after all. On the other hand, in terms of a discussion about Free Comic Book Day, failing to mention Comicopia [464 Commonwealth Ave] would be criminal. Nobody in the area does FCBD like they do - they elevate it from a marginal holiday to a giant sale and sidewalk event, the Black Friday of Boston's comic book world.

You might be wondering why a man in his late twenties is still reading comics. Well, just remember that this is the one who recommended the Museum of Fine Arts as the best place in Beantown to read the Game of Thrones books. (Hey, I had my reasons, and they were good ones.) In all honesty, though, if you have any doubts as to the appeal of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character as a trope of modern storytelling, I'll just redirect you to the article "How Spider-Man Conquered the World" from Rolling Stone by Bilge Ebiri. It's the most elegantly phrased summary of Spider-Man as a neurotic young adult contending with the various rigors of entering adulthood that I've ever read. In other words, he's kind of like us.

Oh yeah, and of course, that giant tentpole flick from Sony Pictures is out this weekend, too. You know, the one about a man with the abilities of a spider. Free Comic Book Day, a new #1 for Amazing Spider-Man, and the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2 in theaters? That wasn't timed. 30 Rock will help us understand this coincidence. 30 Rock knows all.

All in all, it's a pretty good week for Boston comics.

Til next time!